monarch became the central element in the Russian political system.
The Russian autocrat was a towering figure at the pinnacle of the
pyramid of state, exercising total power in the country. There were
no recognized formal limits on his political authority and no rule
of law to curb his arbitrary will.
Europe, even in the age of absolutism, monarchs had to reckon with
the interests of powerful social groups such as the nobility and the
bourgeoisie, and they often faced opposition in the form of a
parliament, or municipal councils, or self-governing religious
bodies. By contrast, the absolute rule of the Russian tsars met with
no opposition from society. The tsar’s autocratic authority was in
complete possession of the political and civil liberties of its
the state concentrated in its hands the control and distribution of
the nation’s entire human and material resources.
The result of
the centuries-long evolution of Russia’s distinctive political and
social organization was that social progress became possible only
through state regulation of all aspects of socioeconomic
development. In contrast to the West, where social progress was
achieved through the natural development of economic relations, the
Russian state drew its strength and vitality from the use of
noneconomic methods, such as coercion.
power at the disposal of the autocratic government and the enforced
and often brutal manner in which it thrust it reforms upon society
generated the perception of reforms as revolutions from above. Peter
was the first Russian ruler who inaugurated the pattern of a
revolution from above as a chief mode of Russian modernization. This
pattern – and the disregard for human sacrifice that it entailed –
would be maintained down to the end of the tsarist regime in 1917